Once again, the mass media—both right and left, and both in the US and elsewhere—have managed to take a complex issue and reduce it to a mindless partisan pissing contest. To hear them tell it, the EU referendum was a vote on whether or not British people like immigrants.
The mainstream narrative, reflected on celebrity Twitter feeds, goes something like this: Those in the Leave camp—once spearheaded by liberals—are mean, insular, white nationalists who hate refugees. (To be clear: mean, insular, white nationalists exist, and their numbers are growing, a logical consequence of the EU’s vicious neoliberal policies.) Their opponents, meanwhile, are progressive egalitarians, the agents of equality and justice. The former is right; the latter left. Since the latter lost (and were not supposed to lose), they are the ones doing the most howling.
Alas, lost in all the howling are the issues, most notably whether the European Union is in fact a democratic, peace-loving force for good, as it and its allies like to proclaim. Many people, including, incidentally, leftists, aren’t convinced. Indeed, many on the left are applauding the British for their decision to go it alone; moreover, the hope is for a domino effect. (Said effect may very well occur, with right-wing villains in France and Holland wasting no time in calling for their own referendums.)
How could that be? How could liberals, the sort of people who identify with Jill Stein’s politics, celebrate the success of Brexit? After all, Donald “Fuhrer” Trump was in favor of Brexit! Everyone knows that a point for Trump and his European counterparts is a point for fascism. Common knowledge.
Fortunately, it’s not that simple.
Because the loudest pro-Brexit voices emanated from demagogues like Nigel Farage, the media had no problem convincing the postmodernist left—whose perversion of social justice leaves no room for class politics—that Brexit was an essentially fascist project. What a lot of these people failed to consider, however, is how vile some of the most prominent pro-EU figures are.
Tony Blair is pretty much despised in England, and forgotten elsewhere, but he was nevertheless on the television bleating about how the referendum was a tragic day for the world and so forth. If bedfellows are relevant, those who voted Stay have the worst of the worst in Blair. The former prime minister still maintains that overthrowing Saddam Hussein and wiping out hundreds of thousands of Iraqis was the right thing to do. “He does not see how,” writes Patrick Cockburn, “among the many horrendous consequences of the war he helped start and has not stopped to this day, has been a vastly strengthened al-Qaeda and the establishment of ISIS.”
He’s an incorrigible neocon, in other words, with not a shred of humanity when it comes to the suffering of people in countries not allied with his own.
Of course, it would be ludicrous to argue that, because Blair was opposed to Brexit, everyone who voted Stay on Thursday is a shameless warmonger. Yet this is the tactic employed by the left to discredit pro-Brexit voters. If you voted Leave, you’re a xenophobic scumbag, and you ought to be ashamed of yourself.
The implication here is that the British people couldn’t possibly base their decisions on the actual issues surrounding the referendum. For instance, do they want to be subject to the will of a massive bureaucratic entity, the unelected leaders of which are accountable to no one but themselves? Do they identify with the global neoliberal project, ushered in by a couple of big-hearted egalitarians called Reagan and Thatcher?
Consider for a moment the fundamental principles of neoliberalism: privatization, deregulation and austerity—globalized. The EU’s primary function is to impose these noble principles on the whole of Europe, maximizing corporate profit at the expense of working people. What could go wrong?
Greece could go wrong, as became painfully obvious last year when not only its economy but its society collapsed under the pressure of years of austerity imposed by the European Commission following the global recession. The destruction of Greece was a slow, painful process. According to Greek economist Yanis Varoufakis, who wrote about the crisis in the New York Times, more than a third of Greece was living below the poverty line by 2013. “By 2014, government wages and pensions had been cut 12 times in four years.” Between 2009 and 2014, “Greece’s national income dwindled by a catastrophic 26.6 percent—about the same as for America in the depths of the Great Depression.”
There was a glimmer of hope last year when the progressive Syriza party won the legislative election and promised to restructure the country’s debt. Greek’s creditors had no interest in negotiating, however, and in fact demanded even harsher austerity measures. Varoufakis summarizes the shattering result thus:
Behind the grim numbers, an ugly reality looms, one that gets uglier by the day. Small businesses have been crushed by punitive taxes, and a wave of home foreclosures is on the horizon. Greece’s hospitals are running out of basic necessities, while our universities cannot even afford to provide toilet paper in their restrooms. In Athens, these days, only the soup kitchens can be said to be flourishing.
Astonishingly, the catastrophe barely left a blemish on the EU’s reputation as a progressive, unifying entity. Make no mistake: the immense suffering endured by the people of Greece is a direct consequence of the economic policies implemented by the corporate bureaucrats in Brussels. Surely more than a handful of Brexiters bore this in mind while casting a vote to free their country from the mandates of those very bureaucrats.
Another ongoing crisis bears the mark of the EU’s machinations: that of Ukraine. For years the EU, along with NATO, has been pushing aggressively eastward in an abiding effort to isolate Russia (imagine, for the sake of analogy, that the Warsaw Pact was still in effect, and that its member states were attempting to acquire Canada—how would the US feel about it?). For Ukraine, things came to head in late 2013 when then president Viktor Yanukovich, under mounting pressure from his party, reluctantly declined an offer made by the EU, which dictated that Ukraine cut ties with Russia and move west—both economically and militarily (harsh austerity measures, naturally enough, were featured in the arrangement).
The deal, which would have made Ukraine a de facto member of the EU and NATO, was strongly opposed by the majority of eastern Ukrainians, who feel a deep affinity with Russia and are generally hostile to the West. They would never tolerate the imperious conditions demanded by the EU.
With this in mind, Yanukovich rejected the agreement, opting for closer ties with Russia. The decision prompted a revolt, led by Ukraine’s fascist parties, and the overthrow of Yanukovich’s government. This was a welcome development for the EU, which expressed support for the coup and renewed its offer to the illegitimate interim government. The offer was accepted, Crimea seceded, and the bloody civil war commenced.
Western media ascribed the explosion of violence to Russia’s obstinacy and aggression, but the facts of the matter utterly contradict that narrative. The EU, in tandem with the US, laid the groundwork for the destruction of Ukraine. A sterling example of their eternal commitment to freedom, peace and democracy.
It goes without saying that the propagandists managing the western media would never allow the EU’s role in the crushing of two countries through their filters, especially when it came to Brexit. Reality is oftentimes (i.e. almost always) inconvenient for the US and its allies; ergo it is censored from mainstream discourse. Hence the popular belief, on the left, that Brexit was motivated purely by the fascistic tendencies of British nationalists.
Incredibly, the neoliberals’ misinformation campaign was overcome, and Brexit succeeded. We can only hope for more of the same throughout the continent. Vive la Leave!